This article looks into meat and sustainability. This is the third in a four-part series looking into meat consumption and how sustainable this is.

Dave Meier

It is based on the book and documentary Meat the Truth, which was released in 2010.

Each article covers a slightly different topic. The last 2 weeks have looked into how global meat consumption is predicted to double in the next 50 years and how livestock farming places heavy demands on land, water and energy. You can find links to these below.



Livestock farming (meat consumption) has a major impact on climate

This week we are looking into a very topical subject, meat consumption’s contribution to climate change.

There were lots of good papers on this inside Meat the Truth and I hope to bring you what I considered to be the most interesting parts in this article.

One of the best chapters in Meat the Truth was by Kirsten Oleson, who wrote about the hidden environmental costs of the meat trade. I will quote the paragraph below in its entirety because of its link to the forest fires that are currently taking place in the Amazon.

Our model has confirmed previous studies linking meat consumption with deforestation in Brazil. We show that 5.6 million hectares of land in Brazil supports foreigners’ consumption of pork and chicken; of this, over four million hectares is being used to grow soy to feed these animals. According to FAO, Brazil deforested 2.6 million hectares in 2000, in large part to grow soy, exports of which have increased 11% annually for the past 14 years. Total Brazilian land use to grow soy has nearly doubled from 11.5 million ha in 1990 to 21.5 million hectares in 2004. Our model shows that more Brazilian land is used to grow feed crops for export than to grow feed crops for domestic consumption.

The above quotation sets out in stunning detail the drivers behind deforestation in the Amazon, which is itself driving anthropogenic climate change.

In chapter 3 Danielle Nierenberg highlights how factory farming methods are impacting on climate change:

It is increasingly evident that factory farming is to blame for much of the increases in GHG emissions from animal agriculture. The 15 year period of 1990 to 2005 saw a significant rise in GHG emissions in the United States. Methane emissions from pig and dairy cow manure increased by approximately 37% and 50% respectively – an elevation caused by the shift towards rearing pigs and cows in larger facilities where liquid manure management systems that promote anaerobic conditions, or those in which oxygen is not present, are increasingly used.”

In chapter 7 Van Drunen, Van Beukering and Aiking share some interesting information on the true price of meat. They explain that:

In 2006, the FAO calculated that the global meat sector contributes 18% (7.1 Gton every year) to the total emission of carbon dioxide equivalents.

Which highlights that what we are dealing with here is a major contributor to anthropogenic climate change.

Chapter 15 by Goodland and Anhang share an interesting perspective on carbon and the scale of carbon emissions from animal agriculture. They explain that:

“Our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.”

So as we can see, there is evidence to suggest that emissions from animal agriculture may be significantly higher than it is currently anticipated to be, making the problem that much more severe.

What you need to know

This article looked into meat and sustainability. This was the third in a four-part series looking into meat consumption and how sustainable this is.

In this article, we explored how livestock farming has a major impact on climate.

We looked at evidence which showed that deforestation is taking place in the Amazon for cattle ranging and animal feed stocks. We looked at how factory farming is leading to increased emissions from animal agriculture and the contested figures for how much animal agriculture is contributing towards the total amount of greenhouse gasses. Regardless of the dispute, the number is high.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think of the relationship between meat and sustainability?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby



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